I remember the way to Dodger Stadium as the Golden Greek freeway. Technically it’s the Golden State freeway, but our favorite player was Eric Karros who Tommy Lasorda nicknamed the Golden Greek. And he was, Eric Karros, like a chiseled Grecian statue–an ode to physical fitness and the prime of one’s life.
You can see Dodger Stadium from the freeway. It sits on a hill. There’s no good way in or out. You pass parks and go through a regular neighborhood of homes to get to the parking lot. We parked by the Union 76 station to meet our favorite scalper who held seats behind home plate, seven rows up, for us.
There is an orderliness to going to baseball games. A reliable dependability. The gates open according to a precise schedule. Teams are allotted precise batting practice minutes. The players stretch according to pre-game routines. The national anthem sung at just the right time before players must take the field for the pitcher’s warmup tosses. First pitch thrown at the promised game start.
The rhythm. The routine. The master planning.
Then something fantastic happens after the first pitch. The rhythm, the routine, the schedule, the master plan lose their power to serendipity and wonder–to unexpected agonies and thrills. An inning could be as quick as three pitches or last an hour. The batter might strikeout or he may hit a homerun.
Dodger Stadium seats face mountains and hills and greenery. Downtown Los Angeles only viewable from a top deck observation area. At Dodger Stadium, we sit in our seats with backs turned to the urban crush and the traffic jams and the rush hours and the commerce. Our focus is on an un-timed, pastoral game–a game that throws hitters curveballs. Tough, hard to hit, shocking curveballs that can bring a swinging batter to his knees.
When she died, I quit ball games. I stopped going to Dodger Stadium. Never listened to Vin Scully on the radio. Lost track of the player roster and division standings. She was young. Only thirty-nine. That doesn’t happen. Shouldn’t happen. Isn’t fair.
So I suffered the loss of her and everything else good and alive. Cut myself off from exquisite double plays and Grecian statuesque ballplayers performing acts defying physical limitations and tragedy. If she couldn’t smell the infield grass or follow the arc of a foul ball against the backdrop of the sun, I would not.
All the “baseball is life” metaphors are most probably hyperbolic and stale. But shutting myself away from the joys of baseball is as good a metaphor for my grief as I am able to muster. But the people we love and lose never stop speaking.
In time, a friend urged me back to Dodger Stadium. We sat behind home plate, up in the reserved section. I went begrudgingly. Couldn’t bring myself to keep score like in the old days. The best days. The days gone. Back when ball games were about time shared together doing what we loved together. Our time to talk over our lives and hopes and make plans. We planned a collaborative baseball travel book–one in the spirit of a travel journal–about California minor and major league ballparks. We joked we’d call it “Stalking Eric Karros.”
It was nice to see the old ballpark but it made me lonely. I sat there, present in my seat but not of the rhythm or the view or the sounds of the game. Then there was the distinct sound when a bat hits the ball perfect. The sound of the catcher, Paul Lo Duca, getting it just right one of his twenty-five percent of the times at bat.
It was a hard line drive to the furthest right field corner. Paul Lo Duca wasn’t the fastest or the slowest member of the team. And he was running hard and without hesitation. The ball rattled around the corner of the outfield and Paul Lo Duca ran as fast as his legs could move.
Suddenly he rounded third base with the ball in the air from the outfield as he chugged toward home plate. The play lifted me up out of my seat. I hopped and yelled, “Run, run, run.”
He was safe. The stadium buzzed and rumbled. I clapped. I laughed. Felt genuine deep joy for the beauty of the game and for perseverance and for green grass. I felt the hard plastic back of the stadium seat hold my back firm when I sat back down. Peanut shells crunched under my friend’s feet. Someone behind me said, “Why, I never. That’s my first.”
It was my first inside-the-park homerun as well. It was also the first I knew I could again be joyful. The first I knew she speaks to me. Saying, “Run, run, run.”